Friday, October 1, 2010

Population Growth and Global Warming by Nancy Stratford

Martha note: It's Civic Soapbox Friday!
A short time ago, I got an e-mail from the Center for Biological Diversity that started off by saying "The National Environmental Policy Act is America’s bedrock environmental law. It recognizes unsustainable population growth is a key factor in almost all the environmental problems we face. In the 40 years since it was passed, though," the e-mailed continued, "the US government has failed to address the population issues the law raises. Today, population pressures are greater than ever-and directly linked to biodiversity loss and species extinction-but the federal government is still doing little to address this critical problem."

The problem with population is that it grows exponentially. So the number of people on the planet has been growing even though the fertility rate has been dropping. In 1965, the world’s population was around three billion. It’s now close to seven billion. We are in danger of running out of necessary resources.

in India
There was a fascinating article on population growth in a recent issue of Mother Jones magazine, focusing on India, which is projected to become the most populous nation on earth by 2050. Writer Julia Whitty writes that, it is in India, where the dynamics of overpopulation and over-consumption are most acute. She shows how lifelines between water, food, fuel, and India’s 1.17 billion people are already stretched dangerously thin.

According to Ms. Whitty, the UN calculates that 36 million people die of hunger and malnutrition every year -- mostly women and children. There is encouraging news, as well, however. Ms. Whitty writes that it has been shown that when women are educated and have ready access to family planning services they have fewer children. Robert Engelman of the World Watch Institute, echoes this by writing  that what women want -- and have always wanted -- is not so much to have more children as to have more for a smaller number of children they can raise reliably raise to healthy adulthood.

Hundreds of millions of women in developing countries lack any family planning services. This does not have to remain the case. A bill has been introduced into the House of Representatives that’s designed to address this issue. The Global Sexual and Reproductive Health Act of 2010 (HR5121) funds such initiatives as universal access to contraception, sexuality education, reproductive health care, education on gender equity and programs to reduce violence against women. So, if you are listening to this Civic Soapbox and asking if there’s anything you can do to prevent reaching a projected population of 9.1 billion by 2050, the answer is yes. You can get in touch with your representative and voice your support for the Global, Sexual, and Reproductive Health Act of 2010.

Giving more women choices in their lives will improve life for all of us. By slowing population growth we will save our resources and slow the loss of species by saving wildlife habitat. In the words of Lester Brown, founder of the Earth Policy Institute, meeting family planning needs may be the most urgent item on the global agenda, because the benefits are enormous and the costs are minimal.

                         -- Nancy Stratford lives in Charlottesville and works part-time at JMU.


  1. Thanks for the essay, Nancy. This hugely important issue never gets enough play in the media.

  2. When I (Gordon) taught at JMU I used to peddle as best I could information about population growth and its dangers under the guise of teaching mathematics -- exponential growth, mathematics of demography, and so on. This was a popular topic in those days, before I retired some years ago. I often wonder why it has largely disappeared from our media.

  3. Last year (or the yr before?) even NPR was gushing over the wondrousness of the U.S. hitting 300 million in population. Why the media doesn't discuss population (the biggest elephant in the environmental room)? I understand that the U.S. is the most religious nation in the developed world, and we all know what the main religions tell us: be fruitful and multiply (or some variation thereof).